Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Dennis Romano


Cross-Cultural Exchanges;Gifts;Mamluk Sultanate;Material Culture;Mediterranean World;Republic of Venice

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | European History | History


This dissertation studies cross-cultural exchanges of material goods in order to better understand early modern encounters between subjects of Venice and the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt. It focuses on the period 1480 to 1517, when the ascendant Portuguese and Ottoman empires began to alter the balance of power in both the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean. Venetian merchants had by this time established communities in Egypt and the Levant in their search for pepper and other spices, and periodically called in ambassadors to intervene with the Mamluk sultans on their behalf. An examination of gift giving and other exchanges of goods among diplomats, merchants, pilgrims, consuls, and translators therefore serves as a window into the relationship between Venetian and Mamluk subjects in the turbulent years prior to the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517. Making use of anthropological and sociological literature on reciprocity and interaction rituals, this project studies the symbolism contained in the objects exchanged, analyzes the ways in which different transactions constituted communicative acts, and scrutinizes the language of the sources to assess why observers chose to define transactions as licit or illicit. In doing so, it reframes ongoing debates about the Mediterranean, which dispute whether the region constituted an area of cultural confrontation or a shared zone of tolerance. This study reappraises that debate and takes a new position recognizing coexistence while also conceding that harmony was frequently punctuated by bloody moments of ethnic strife. The subjects of Venice and Egypt used objects to interact and communicate in a time of crisis, but with mixed results. Material exchanges at times helped foster cooperation and coexistence, and at other times went awry, engendering hostility between the members of these two regimes.


Open Access